Achild custody civil suit launched by acid attack victim Som Rasmey against her
convicted attacker, Minh Rinath, was derailed after Rinath failed to attend a
July 4 Kampong Cham Municipal Court hearing.
Som Rasmey before and after the attack.
Twenty three-year-old Rasmey
burst into tears when Judge Tith Sothy announced the suspension of court
proceedings due to Rinath's absence. Post enquiries at Rinath's home on Street
63 in Phnom Penh revealed that she and her husband were busy on the
Thai-Cambodian border negotiating a logging deal.
"I think that the
postponement of the trial is a pretext [to protect Rinath]," Rasmey told the
Post, adding that she had received "indirect" death threats from Rinath to drop
the custody battle.
"I have never seen my daughter since that day [I was
attacked]...I live my life for the sake of my daughter, I've lost everything
On Nov 6, 1999 Rasmey was held to the ground by Rinath and four
hired accomplices who proceeded to pour two bottles of hydrochloric acid over
her head, arms and back. The attack was apparently motivated by jealousy over
Rasmey's relationship with Rinath's husband, Colonel Lim Sok Heng of RCAF's
Region 2 in Kampong Cham. At the time of the attack Rinath took Rasmey's infant
daughter and has kept the child ever since.
Rinath was convicted in
absentia on Dec 27, 2000 of assault and battery in connection with Rasmey's
mutilation, but received a two-year suspended sentence that ensured she would
never spend a day in jail.
The suspended sentence and the refusal of
Judge Tith Sothy - who is also overseeing her civil case - to upgrade the
charges against Rinath to voluntary manslaughter to reflect the seriousness of
the crime was at the time heavily criticized by UN human rights officials.
In March Minister of Women's Affairs Mu Sochua blasted Rinath's lenient
sentencing as an "abuse of power by the judge" and promised to push for an
appeal in the case, which is currently under way.
Both Chanthol Oung,
Executive Director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, and Rasmey's lawyer
alleged similar irregularities in the conduct of the July 4 civil hearing. Oung
expressed concern at the fact that Rasmey had been impelled to seek weekly
custody visits of a "kidnapped" child.
"Rasmey should also be complaining
about the kidnapping of her child... this should be a criminal case," Oung
Rasmey's lawyer, Meas Sokunthea of the Cambodian Defenders Project,
told the Post that Judge Tith Sothy rejected her request to hold the hearing
with Rinath in absentia.
Oung said that prior to the start of the
abortive hearing, Sothy had called Rasmey into his chambers and asked that the
court be closed to outside observers.
"The judge said 'This is a very
small issue, why have you invited all these small and long noses [Cambodian and
Western observers]?'" Oung said. "I was surprised by this even though I already
thought that the [civil trial] result wouldn't be helpful for Rasmey due to the
result of the criminal case."
An official of the Cambodian Office of the
UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights (COHCHR) said they would continue to
push for resolution of Rasmey's case.
"We're still concerned and we're
still monitoring the case," the COHCHR official said. "We hope to ensure that
for the next [custody hearing] all parties will be in attendance or that a
decision be rendered with [Rinath] in absentia because we consider it extremely
important that a fair decision is rendered in this case."
Rinath or Lim Sok Heng in court could prove difficult due to the apparent
unwillingness of Judge Sothy to enforce their appearance.
said he would not force [Rinath or Lim Sok Heng] to come to court because they
were protected by the military," Oung said. "This case depends on the commitment
of the judge and the court and whether they want justice."